Monday, June 15, 2015

From Flesh and Blood to Folded Steel

Veterinarians work with their hands. We palpate, we pet, we suture, we cut, we bandage. Some of us use hands for more than clinical efforts in the hospital; painting and drawing are some recent examples here on VetWrite. But what about bringing art into the third dimension? Let's hear from Dr. Patricia Frederick, equine veterinarian and sculptor.
Dr. Pat Frederick
Originally from Arizona, Pat grew up with a fierce love of horses. With no horse of her own, Pat had the good fortune to have a friend with a horse that needed exercising in the summer. Soon enough, this led to a job at a dude ranch, all at the age of 11. "Imagine a child of that age guiding ranch guests out on trails," says Pat. "Holy cow!"

Naturally, Pat chose to pursue an education in veterinary medicine with a focus on horses. "I was part of a five member surgery team in veterinary school," Pat recalls. "We were given a unique class while the small animal surgeries were filled with the other 44 students. Of course, we did small animal surgery, too. We had to argue to get the horse experience." Pat graduated from Washington State University's vet school in 1966.

"Amigos", by Pat Frederick, DVM
Although Pat did some drawing during her childhood, she admits most of her spare time was spent on horseback. However, once Pat had young children of her own, she started working with clay. "I did clay for several years," she says. When her family moved to Australia in 1984 due to a job opportunity for her husband, Pat took a ceramics course and then pursued an associate degree in painting.

"When we returned to Arizona [in 1991], I had ceramic sculptures which were fragile. I was fortunate to get private tutoring for bronze sculpture. As I learned how much welding the bronzes required, after casting, I took a welding class and was hooked. Steel was not only more available but cheaper and I thought easier to sell."

Pat stopped practicing when she turned 63. It was then that she was able to devote herself completely to her art. Prior to this switch, Pat held certifications in chiropractic medicine, holistic veterinary medicine, and acupuncture. "I have always wanted to 'do art' since high school," Pat says. "I liked biology, too, and science in general, but the art 'thing' was what I tried to make time for as our children grew."

However, it was only after veterinary retirement that Pat was able to immerse herself in her art. "I knew that as I aged I could someday misjudge a horse and get hurt, so I decided to quit veterinary work and start a new job. There is a pretty high learning curve in Art Business which I study seriously. I have shown in many galleries, attended workshops, teach, and generally practice, practice, practice."

"Practice, practice, practice."

Pat's lifelong love of horses is evident in her steel pieces, as a vast majority of her sculptures are of the equine species. Pat's appreciation for horses, however, goes much further than the skin deep beauty of the creature. "Whenever anyone gets on a horse they are immediately on top of the world," Pat says. "Not only are we above the rest of the humans but we are also imbued with a heroic feeling and have an energy under us which is thrilling and useful."
"Tango", by Pat Frederick, DVM
This concept of Horses Make Heroes has heavily influenced many of Pat's pieces. "Of course, no one has to be on top of the horse to feel the hero as brushing, cleaning feet, and feeling a soft hot breath on your neck is as magical as any time can be," she says. "As a veterinarian, this feeling continued when I went into my unique fields with sport horses because after a chiropractic and acupuncture treatment, most horses actually step forward and say thank you with closeness and breath and relaxation."
"Good Luck", by Pat Frederick, DVM
Now with well over 100 pieces to her name and projects gracing numerous galleries in Arizona as well as Australia and Tasmania, Pat estimates she completes about six pieces a year. This of course is highly dependent on their size. The largest project Pat has completed is called "Carousel of Life," a piece with five horses that took her almost a year. The entire piece is fifteen feet in diameter and consists of glass, steel, aluminum, copper, silver, bronze, cement, and wood.

"The time involved encompasses the drawings and research," Pat explains. "A couple of months of three to six hour days and four to five days per week." A step by step process, Pat likens sculpting to drawing, but with steel, not graphite.

Another example of a deep rooted message within Pat's work is a series she calls "Hippophagy." A result of Pat's desire to comment on the debate of horse slaughter and eating horse meat, these pieces are a way to evoke thought and self-reflection among horse owners and the choices they make that may or may not contribute to horse overpopulation. "People are so polarized by 'eating' horse and don't seem to realize why US horses end there," she says. "I felt I needed to call attention to the work in order to get it noticed." Next to the piece as a whole, Pat places a long dialog, called "Menu."

"Menu", by Pat Frederick, DVM
"Dining Out", by Pat Frederick, DVM
"I feel that the horses that are sent to slaughter if done humanely in both travel and killing are getting a better end than they might have done when the recession hit," she continues. "We breed too many dogs, cats, and horses in many countries and then they suffer sad lives and a hard end of life. I guess my bottom line is: if there are so many horses being shipped to slaughter for meat, whose fault is it?"
"Friends Dying", by Pat Frederick, DVM
Like other artists who have been featured on here on VetWrite, Pat emphasizes how her veterinary knowledge of anatomy is a basic building block for her art. "The essence of the animal is basically the energy they are putting into a movement with the correct anatomy," she says. After the primary correct structure is captured, Pat lets her creative side take over. "Once the posture and bones of the armature are in place, I stop being realistic. I have never wanted to capture a purely realistic look--just the essence--so that your own mind and eye fills in the spaces which you don't see without knowing it."

Pat draws inspiration for her pieces from her memory and things she has seen. For her piece "Corowa Sheila", Pat was driving through a town called Howlong, in New South Wales, Australia. "I saw a young girl lying on her horse, obviously waiting for a friend," she says. "The horse was appreciating the shade of a gum tree."
"Corowa Shelia" by Pat Frederick, DVM

In another piece called "Hope," Pat recalls a horse show she attended. "I was getting ready to show and saw a horse standing in a single wire 'stall,'" she says. "It was constructed with the little nylon posts which hold hot wire. He was a big, lanky Thoroughbred and the girl who left him there had put a bucket just out of reach. He was stretching with every sinew of his body to reach the bucket without stepping out of the enclosure."
"Hope" by Pat Frederick. DVM
"I have been very lucky to have such a supportive husband and sons who do whatever they can to encourage me," Pat says. When asked what advice she can offer to others aspiring to explore their creative outlets, she says this: "Just DO it. Try to make time for your hobby. There are so many different forms of artistic expression--the world is your oyster."

Stay tuned for July 6 for the next post.

Monday, June 1, 2015

As Luck Would Have It

Traveling through the internet as I do on a more-than-necessary basis, I came upon a little gem of an article from the Gainesville Sun about a veterinary oncology surgeon who also happened to be a cancer survivor and author. In her book which was just published last year, Dr. Sarah Boston, Associate Professor of Surgical Oncology at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, lays out reality as she knows it:
  • about how, while living and working in Canada, she encountered a sluggish and apathetic medical system when trying to get her thyroid carcinoma diagnosed and treated; 
  • how the human medical field seems to pale in comparison to the compassion that is a hallmark of the veterinary field; 
  • and how her writing became an outlet for humor and a place of solace. 
Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved My Life captures this meaty goodness and tenderizes it into an interesting piece on the table of veterinary authors.  

Let's get to know Sarah a little better.

"This all started just over four years ago," Sarah says. "I was living in Canada at the time. I was getting ready for bed and putting lotion on my neck and I found a mass. I knew it wasn't there before because I'm a veterinarian and an oncologist and I touch things for a living. I just knew it was my thyroid. I don't want to say I panicked, but I just thought it would be like veterinary medicine and I would go to my doctor and he would get me to a specialist and I would have surgery in a week or two."

Quickly enough, Sarah found out this was not the way things were going to go at all.

"Things just ground to a halt," she continues. "Four doctors told me it probably wasn't cancer and that it had been there for a while and it was probably benign. Everything was so slow. I couldn't even get an ultrasound for a week and a half."

In the meantime, Sarah borrowed her husband's (a large animal veterinarian) ultrasound. The image she saw confirmed her fears. "It looked like a thyroid carcinoma in a dog and I've done that surgery hundreds of times. I follow my patients up with ultrasound, so I know what it looks like in dogs. I looked at my ultrasound and was like: OK, no."

Winding her way back and forth to specialists, Sarah entered a scary time. The mass was growing and she felt no one was listening to her. Finally, two and a half months passed between when Sarah found the mass and when she had surgery. "I couldn't help but compare what I would have done for my patients," she says. "They would have been in and out within a couple of days. I couldn't even get an ultrasound in that time when I had the same health problem."

During this process, Sarah began to do what a lot of people would do -- seek an outlet. Hers was writing. "I was just frustrated," she says. "I was writing these little essays. It was really about trying to make my situation funny--me trying to amuse myself. That was really the initial reason for me starting to write. It was cathartic."

Sometimes, writing begets writing (aren't we writers lucky enough to sometimes reach that point?) and Sarah soon found herself with 40,000ish words--way too much for a blog, way more than just a couple humorous essays.

--Writers, this is where Sarah's story gets surreal. Stick with me, here. Think the ultimate writerly dream of meeting someone on a chance encounter and ending with a book deal is the stuff of fantasies? Hold on to your hats.--

Sarah attended a gala at the Animal Cancer Center at the University of Guelph. Speaking at this fundraiser, Sarah decided to read a few of her essays, "So I could explain to the donors why animal cancer is important and how it relates to human cancer," she says. As the Fates would have it, Sarah was sitting next to Noah Richler, a well-known Canadian author. After her reading, "Noah pulled out a pad, got my information, and said he was going to put me in touch with the best publisher in the country," Sarah says. "And I was like: OK."

At this point, Sarah had had two thyroid surgeries and was undergoing radiation. Although she originally didn't expect anything to come of this serendipitous meeting, she soon received an email from Noah introducing Sarah to his wife, well-known in the publishing world. "Through that connection, I sent in a partial first draft. And then I had what I call my Sex in the City moment: I basically walked in and had a book deal within 15 minutes. I was completely stunned, not expecting that at all."

OK, OK. Calm down. See? These sorts of things CAN happen. The Writer's Fates are REAL.

Anyway, back to our subject. Fast forward to the finished product, a book that shares both Sarah's thyroid experience and the experiences of her own four-legged cancer patients. More than a memoir, Lucky Dog carries with it a few strong messages.

"The book has a really strong message of advocacy," Sarah says. "You need to be a really strong advocate for yourself, your dog, your family member who is having health issues. No one cares as much as you do about your health. The thing that scared me the most about my whole process was that multiple times I was told, sort of, to go home. We'll watch it. And I remember thinking that if I were a history professor or someone without this medical background, then, who knows."

A cancer scare or any death scare, really, can make one realize or appreciate on a grand scale how delicate, how short, how precious life really is. (Says Seneca: "Life is long if you know how to use it.") Sarah touches on her realization of this, too. "Thinking I have cancer, then having cancer, then being treated for cancer creates this feeling of living in the moment," she says. "I learn that from the patients I see. Just because my patients have cancer, they don't sit there and worry about it and think about how they're going to die. They are enjoying the moment and quality of life. I think anyone who has had cancer or a cancer scare, they come to the other side of that. They get to where dogs are. Even though you may have a relatively long life, it's not really that much time so make sure you're happy. Someone told me after reading the book that I feared being unhappy more than I feared death. And I think that's true. Be happy in your life."

"Get to where dogs are."

This wouldn't be a talk about a veterinary memoir if it didn't include a reference to the venerable James Herriot. Sarah addresses this outright: "I was trying not to be another James Herriot. I love him, but I was trying to be another voice in veterinary literature, trying to shed some light on what we do as veterinarians, to help people understand what goes on in our profession. I'm actually considering writing another book on that subject because I think it's an important area to explore."

Given how Sarah found herself at a unique juxtaposition between the same human and veterinary professional specialties of oncology, naturally her book includes discussion on the differences and similarities between the two. "I think there are many ways in which veterinary medicine works better," she says. "I think we are more efficient, more compassionate. We spend more time with our clients, sometimes to our own detriment because people get burnt out and suffer from compassion fatigue. But it's what we do. To compare the time my surgeon spent with me to what my clients ask of me, it's not even in the same world. I'm trying to show that."

And of course, any dialogue on health care must invoke opinions on socialized versus privatized care, especially now that Sarah lives and works in Florida. "There's a little bit of the book contrasting Canadian and US health systems," she says. "I actually don't think socialized medical care is bad. I'm Canadian and believe strongly in socialized medicine. In the end I was treated and it didn't cost me any money but the problem in Canada is it's slow. There are inefficiencies. But, everyone is covered and has the right to have the surgery they need without financial hardship."

Of course you're all wondering, as I was, how Sarah is doing now. I was relived to have her tell me she's great. Her treatment lasted a total of nine months and she laughs this off by saying it was good for writing. "Thyroid is a "good" cancer," she says, "because it has a high cure rate. I'm inching up on that magic five year mark." With no cancer in the lymph nodes, clean margins, radioactive iodine and total thyroidectomy--the whole kit and kaboodle--Sarah says her check ups have been good.

We ended our conversation on a light note. Sarah wanted to emphasize how her book was meant to be humorous and says the most common feedback she's received from the book is that people say they laughed out loud and cried. "To me, that's amazing," she says. "I think as you're going through something like cancer, you have to find a way to have humor in it because it's about finding joy. Try to find the laughter and the joy in things."

I can't think of a better way to end a blog than that. You can follow Sarah on Twitter: @DrSarahBoston.

See you in two weeks--next post will be Monday, June 15.